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A Conversation with John Jack Anderson, Occupy Photojournalist (UPDATE)

7:58 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

State Troopers roughly arrest a mn in a santa suit, surrounded by chalk

From the book: “Occupy Austin participant, James Peterson, dresses as Santa Claus, hands out chalk to children and encourages them to use it after an event at the Texas Capitol on December 21, 2012. Peterson also wrote with chalk and as he and others were leaving, DPS troopers arrested him along with Corey Williams.”

UPDATE: John Anderson will join us on the FDL Book Salon on March 30!

More: See John Anderson’s recent collaboration with the Austin Chronicle’s Michael King: “Fun And Games With Stratfor 

John Jack Anderson has decades of experience as a photojournalist. As part of the Austin Chronicle team, he conducted a long study of Occupy Austin from its first beginnings till the point when its activity waned two years later. He continues to be a fixture at local protests, and during the height of Occupy was our embedded reporter — someone activists trusted enough to tip off about direct actions and civil disobedience before they happened, even in those paranoid days of police infiltration and provocation.

John Anderson with a camera in hand, as a State Trooper leaves the frame at right

John Anderson, photojournalist at work (Police photo obtained through open records request)

Though the Chronicle published a continuous photo gallery, Jack Anderson has just collected the best of his coverage into a pair of photo books: In Search Of A Revolution, and the shorter Occupy Austin: The Encampment Months. Both are available as vivid, full-color printed editions, but Revolution is also available as an inexpensive iBook and .pdf.

Anderson has a sharp eye and caught many funny, chaotic and even tragic moments. The books contain both large events like marches and arrest, but also general assemblies, tent city life, and play. Revolution also documents his photos of the undercover Austin Police Department officers who infiltrated the movement — a special glossary in the back shows where to find each known officer in each photo in the book.

Of course I’m partial to the book in part because it contains so many great photos of my friends, myself, and all that we accomplished from the moment that first tent went up on the steps of Austin City Hall right through all the months we continued gathering and acting despite eviction. But anyone interested in the life of social justice movements and the use of public spaces should get a copy.

Though Anderson is an unapologetic supporter of Occupy’s goals, he stood at just a step removed from the rest of us citizen (gonzo) journalists in the camps with our tweets and streams. His loving outsider’s view of this uprising should not be missed. From occupiers raised in chants and song to the faces of police as they swing a baton or fist, there will be much that lingers in your memory here.

I sat down with Jack recently to talk about his experiences at Occupy and the new books.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: Tell me a little of your background before Occupy.

John Anderson: I started getting into activist photography when I lived in Washington, D.C., as a photo student. There’s always a protest, march, rally or something in D.C. It made for easy assignments. My first photograph that was published in 1986 when Reagan bombed Libya. I went down to the White House and it got published in the paper and I got hooked on that.

The intentions of the Occupy movement really got my attention. It was something I’d been waiting for, for years. It was trying to get at some of the root causes — capitalism — of the structural issues in our society. Instead of chasing environmental issues over here, and education issues over there, Citizens United — instead of all those separate issues, Occupy wanted to bring them all together to strike at the root, which to me was too much corporate power in our government and the resulting inequality.

I wanted to go to Occupy Wall Street but just couldn’t manage it, but then of course the movement spread and came here to Austin and I thought ‘great!’ Now I can document Occupy without having to go to New York. At the same time, the Chronicle started putting together photo galleries for the website and we realized an ongoing encampment at City Hall would certainly be worthy of a photo gallery. At that point we were ambitiously hoping to update it every day, but you were having general assemblies every day and marches every night, and everything else in between.

I loved the energy, the 24/7 aspect of it. If I were downtown and between assignments I could just go down to City Hall and hang out. You can’t compare that to anything else, at least that I’ve covered. It started as an assignment and then became a labor of love. No one at the Chronicle expected it to go on for years!

Balloons labelled LULZ attached to a banner: Today's Strategic Forecast 100% Chance of LULZ

From the book: “Members of Occupy Austin float signs outside the windows of the private global intelligence company Stratfor to protest their involvement with the infiltration of Occupy Austin on March 5, 2012. Recently hacked Stratfor emails revealed the Texas Department of Safety had infiltrated Occupy Austin and shared information with Strafor that was gathered while undercover.”

FDL: Do you have any favorite moments from documenting Occupy?

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A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 3: Intersectionality & Technology

8:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Previously: Part 1, Occupy & Activism and Part 2, Mutual Aid

A black & white portrait of Scott Crow

Firedoglake’s Kit O’Connell concludes his interview with anarchist author and organizer Scott Crow.

One important tool which defines modern activism is the use of social media for organizing and building solidarity. While social media does little unless paired with “meatspace” direct action, it can be a powerful tool for motivating people, reporting on live events, and building intersectionality. When arrests first occurred at Occupy Austin, we heard from activists in Egypt who had staged an impromptu protest at the US Embassy.

Between times of “rupture,” social media becomes even more crucial for strengthening solidarity and relating about core issues. This can be seen in recent, vital discussions on Twitter over race, feminism, and the meaning and origins of Occupy. Likewise, more people are using social media and the Internet to educate themselves about politics and current events. To close our conversation, I asked Scott Crow how he thought social media was changing our political conversations.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: The word ‘anarchy’ or ‘socialism’ used to be these hot button words that could be used to turn people off. You used those words and people’s minds closed down. The mainstream media and the politicians use this constantly. “Obama’s a socialist!” But it doesn’t seem to be working anymore. People are less likely to believe you. Why do you think that’s happening?

Scott Crow: Because people are smart. And they can see that it’s propaganda. Even if they don’t have a ‘political analysis’ they can see that it’s total bullshit. And — can I say bullshit?

FDL: Yeah. You’re not going on the radio!

SC: I think you’re totally right. The thing is — with words like that — I can’t speak to socialism because it did get such a bad rap. But anarchy was always assumed to be chaos and bombthrowing. Because anarchy is the largest set of ideas in ascension in social justice movements — nationally, in the US, Canada, Mexico, even Europe — more than Communism (big C Communism). The New York Times and CNN, they can’t ignore it anymore. Sure, anarchists are out in the streets in black bloc throwing tear gas canisters back when they get shot at them, but they are also at the front lines of disaster relief, they’re at the front lines of occupying and reclaiming spaces that should be the commons — you can’t deny that. You can’t knock it off to a fringe element and people can see that clearly. We’re in an anarchist renaissance — there’s more anarchist literature produced in the last 14 years than there had been in the previous 50 or 60 years in the United States and even internationally.

Anarchy went underground. People stopped talking about it. They started to hide in other organizations. It reemerged in the 60′s but still at the fringes. But now there’s a huge body of work — more books have come out, more articles are written now. And the Interwebs help with that because it is an open platform to talk about things, because if you’re in Idaho or you’re in Texas or you’re in New York, you can be connected and hear people share ideas.

FDL: That leads into the intersectionality that’s happening. That’s not a new concept obviously but the Internet seems to promote it. In my view, when Occupy worked was when it was its most intersectional. That’s also when there was the most pushback against it from the media, from people who just wanted it to be the Democratic answer to the Tea Party.

SC: But that tension’s always there. There’s always groups trying to pilfer off of you, trying to suck like vampires. The labor unions, the Democrats, they’re always trying to do that. There’s a long history of that. Used to be Communists who’d try to control it.

FDL: But intersectionality seems like a key to growing any kind of movement right now.

SC: Absolutely. That’s the thing that attracted me to anarchy originally. I came to it late in my life. I came to it in my late twenties … but anarchy was one of the only political philosophies that seemed to embrace intersectionality and connecting the struggles. That it was important what was happening in prisons, in the environment, with animals, rape culture, what happened outwardly but also inwardly — how do we treat each other? While a lot of movements are about converting people to their party, their line, their nonprofit.

You bring up a point that needs to be reiterated. I think the Interwebs is very conducive to that. It’s almost like a cacophony —  where you can see something about animal liberation and then something about prisons right below it in your news feed. And you say, ‘Oh yeah, those are both important.’

FDL: And on the ground, doing the work it can seem really obvious. How is Palestine linked to Capitalism? Because Capitalism props that occupation up. But then it becomes time to regurgitate that into a sound bite and that’s where it starts to break down.

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A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 2: Mutual Aid

7:05 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Previously: Part 1, Occupy & Activism

Banner on Occupy Sandy relief site: "Occupy Sandy, Mutual Aid Not Charity" with Circle A

Radical activist networks are powerful sources of mutual aid during disasters. But what comes after?

One reason I wanted to chat with Scott Crow was his experience with Common Ground Collective in New Orleans. In recent years, we’ve seen similar collectives spring out of the activist networks formed by Occupy Wall Street — projects like Occupy Sandy. Late last year, alongside key Common Ground Collective organizer Lisa Fithian and many others, I organized Austin Common Ground Relief to respond to a record-breaking flood on Halloween. As the group’s dispatcher, I relied on the networks and skills formed during Occupy Austin.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: You mentioned projects that appear during lulls. I see Occupy Sandy, or the Common Ground Relief work we did here recently and all that ties into what you were doing at Common Ground Collective. 

Scott Crow: Right.

FDL: Mutual aid is good for its own sake, but how do we connect that politically? We don’t want to turn anyone off. We don’t want to politicize our aid but our aid is political. How do we make that connection? What happens next after an Occupy Sandy?

SC: I think it only is what it is. You can only ‘politicize’ it as much as you can. I think what’s really important is the culture we create internally within our political movements and social movements and also the way we engage outwardly with other people — though it’s more permeable than that. We’re not trying to convert people to anarchy or to communism or whatever it is — although communists did try to convert people just like religious wingnuts. Really what we do is you just make it make sense to people.

FDL: Sure!

SC: When you go to help someone and you name it mutual aid, people see that in real life and real time. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to do it. There is no conversion.

“It’s the idea of attraction, not the idea of conversion.” That actually comes out of Alcoholics Anonymous, I didn’t make that up. The aid work is something which just emerges sort of by accident out of all these projects. Like at Common Ground Collective in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, we were able to pull from the alternative globalization movement: street medics, indy media, and Food Not Bombs and all these things which had been going on.

FDL: These were networks built through activism that then were pulled in for aid.

SC: We didn’t consciously say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this for aid!’ Now we’re starting to see that this has become a newer model, another point of intersection against the crisis of capitalism.

Make it as political as possible without drawing fake lines: like “we’re anarchist and you’re not.” Or, “this is radical and you’re not.” And also just being honest about who we are. I don’t want to convert anyone.

FDL: But you’re honest about where you’re coming from.

SC: Absolutely! I told people I was an anarchist from the beginning in New Orleans. And these are people, in some communities, who had hardly ever seen white people. I’m literally serious about that. They’d say “I’ve barely seen white people except on TV. You’re an anarchist, what is that? And why are you here?”

Now they’ll tell you, “The anarchists came. No one else showed up, but the anarchists came.” I’m sure your experience with Austin Common Ground was maybe not as extreme, but similar.

FDL: Sure, I had some people who took me aside who were like “I get what you guys are doing here.” We didn’t avoid talking about our politics, people knew we were organizers but it was never about that, obviously. It was about “here’s a meal.”

SC: Right.

FDL: During some of the later events in December, people told me, “We will remember you and what you did.”

SC: It’s also about connecting things. So when you’re gutting somebody’s house, you can come in like a service organization and say, “Yeah, we’re going to gut your house. Then we’re going to go on to do something else.” That’s the charity model. But if you come in with the solidarity model, it’s like, “We’re doing this because we want you to get back on your feet, because we want you to build your own community power the way you see fit.” It’s a different way to approach it.

FDL: We’ve been able to pass the work off to the new Onion Creek Park Neighborhood Alliance, which we helped them form. 

SC: That’s what I’m talking about! These things happen all the time, and I don’t care if we name them as anarchy or not. It’s not a brand. There’s no gain in it. It’s just a point of reference, at least to me.

FDL: I feel the same way about Occupy. Some people want to fly that banner and it’s really powerful to them, and other people don’t want anything to do with it. At the end of the day, I don’t care as long as they’re doing something.

SC: Right, right.

In Part 3: Technology and intersectionality.

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A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 1: Occupy & Activism

8:15 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Scott Crow in jeans and a button shirt sits in a chair at the left of a long table, against an alley wall.

Scott Crow talks with Firedoglake’s Kit O’Connell about activism and anarchy.

Scott Crow is a co-founder of the Common Ground Collective which provided grassroots solidarity and mutual aid after Hurricane Katrina. An anarchist activist, author and public speaker, he travels regularly to share his views. The second edition of his book about Common Ground, Black Flags and Windmills is due out soon. It’s one of multiple book-length projects in the works.

Both Scott & I call Austin home, so I invited him out for coffee and conversation on a recent break from an unusually chilly Central Texas winter.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: There’s always been activism happening but the last few years it seems there’s been more activity, more people in the streets, more stuff happening. Do you agree?

Scott Crow: Yeah, but what happens is there are times of rupture, where things kind of jump off. And then times of lulls, in-between times. Look at it like a sine wave where it rises and falls. So the twenty plus years I’ve been doing activism, I’ve been engaged with community organizing, I’ve been engaged in national struggles, international struggles, I’ve seen a lot of ruptures and falls. When I came back in really seriously was in the alternative globalization movement, the post-Seattle stuff. When that kicked off it was huge huge huge. We could get 10,000 people to a demonstration internationally with the summit hopping that was going on.

After September 11 it sort of died down. But then the wars kicked off. And I don’t mean the War On the Poor or the War On Women, but the international wars. And in that you saw another rupture where thousands of people were in the streets.

And then it kind of leveled off and then we were struck with some pretty serious disasters. One was the man made and natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina. That actually drew a lot of people to it, which was another form of a rupture. Because then people came to the Gulf Coast by the hundreds of thousands, literally,

Then there was a lull, but then we come to the next disaster which was the economic collapse of 2008. All of these things have been brewing since the millennium as capitalism’s been in crisis and then finally Occupy comes. And it’s just a natural progression of all this. So that was just the latest rupture to happen.

It’s always interesting to watch — the way I actually look at it is like an ocean, like waves coming to the shore. Is this too long?

FDL: No, No! Go on!

SC: So like the waves are out here and there’s the lulls and highs and then they just finally crash into the shore. All the waves aren’t coming at the same time but they are definitely crashing on that shore. Then they kind of recede back.

Then what I like to see is what happen in the lulls, in between the ruptures right — what comes out of it? So when the rupture happens there’s thousands — I just want to be clear I’m not saying ‘the Rapture!’

FDL: *Laughter*

SC: The tensions are the highest and when the people are the most. We saw in the Occupy movements, it was incredibly beautiful, internationally but definitely in the states, all across the country. But then it starts to recede and we see who’s left and what projects come out of it. Because that helps build for the next level.

I think that what came out of Occupy and the Occupy movements was a really beautiful rupture because you’d already seen the largest influence of anarchy and anarchist ideas in the modern times since the time of Emma Goldman and the IWW and people back then. We’re in an anarchist renaissance. So when people came into Occupy, they came in with these horizontal organizing ideas, the ideas of participatory democracy, the ideas of direct action, without even thinking about it.

And that’s forty years of organizing for a lot of people in the United States but for me that’s twenty years of organizing — not that I was a part of all of it, but seeing it come to fruition –

FDL: You and all your allies.

SC: Absolutely. I’m not taking credit for it in any way!

In Part 2: Disaster relief and the meaning of mutual aid.
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What The Hell Happened to @OccupyWallst? Or, Our New Boss, Justine Tunney

8:33 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Yesterday, the almost 200,000 followers of @OccupyWallSt — viewed by many as the original and even “official” voice of the movement — were in for a surprise.

Along with this announcement, the Twitter icon changed to an image of a creature from Doctor Who called an Adipose. An account that purported to speak for a national movement now suddenly spoke very much in first person. Access that had been shared with a select sampling of Occupy activists nationwide now dwindled to just a single voice.

A white blob-like creature with a humanoid shape known as an Adipose

The new white face of Occupy Wall Street?

As a flood of critical tweets began, Tunney justified her drastic actions by saying she’d felt excluded from the OWS conversation since the beginning and was reclaiming the account ‘for a week or so‘ to share her voice.

Tunney’s viewpoints included calling out activist philosopher David Graeber, espousing vegetarianism and non-smoking, and insisting that the movement was only anti-Wall Street, not anti-corporation. She defended her employment with Google while simultaneously calling out the liberal middle class for their moral bankruptcy.

I was the founding organizer of this movement. But prejudiced people have always tried to deny me a voice in this movement. –Justine Tunney

The movement lost the way. So I’m helping people learn about its founding principles which lead to its success. –Justine Tunney to @YourAnonNews

Tunney’s tale of exclusion stems from being a transgender woman, a class of people often oppressed and silenced in our culture. Yet she plays this card without hesitation in response to her critics. This afternoon, as nearly every activist on social media held their breath in anticipation of the NATO 3 verdict, Tunney shared a sob story of emotional abuse on her personal account. As I pleaded with her to use her new soapbox to share solidarity with three activists that face decades behind bars, she responded by calling me a transphobic bully and temporarily blocking me on Twitter.

The fiasco spawned the humorous #IFoundedOccupyWallSt hashtag, but many who invested months of their lives — or even went to jail for the movement — responded with outrage and a sense of betrayal. It’s sad to see a leaderless movement so diminished in numbers and tarnished in the media further devalued by the bizarre personal agenda of a singular egotist. On one hand, this appears to be a sudden digital coup by a self-described anarchist turned movement dictator.

But looked at another way, this seems like the sad yet inevitable result of how the Occupy media team formed. Viewed this way, it’s a problem exacerbated by technology ill-suited to horizontal movements, a problem that played out at perhaps dozens of encampments and Occupy subgroups before coming home to Zuccotti.

While I spoke at length with a former media team member, Tim Fitzgerald (@DiceyTroop) today about the early days of @OccupyWallSt, his words were supported by many communications I’ve had over the last few years with Occupy members, and documented in multiple sources which I will link to where possible. I engaged with Justine Tunney for her side of things until I was blocked. Priscilla Grim, one of the team members ousted on Thursday, told me she’d be unavailable to comment on this matter until Monday.

Occupy The Media or Occupy A Park

Yesterday’s hijack was possible because Tunney did create the @OccupyWallSt account on Twitter and obtain the original domain name OccupyWallSt.org — the about page of which is currently a hagiography of Tunney and her friends. To take over, she presumably just changed the password and shut down whatever services were allowing other activists to tweet from the account.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of the origins and structure of the Occupy movement knows it’s ludicrous to claim leadership, but I think we can learn a lot about how activist media goes wrong from her example. Nathan Schneider’s Thank You, Anarchy (previously on the FDL Book Salon) tells Tunney’s side of the origin story:

Because of the General Assembly’s early hiccups in setting up a website during the planning process, the occupation’s online presence was left to the whims of improvisation. A transgender Internet security expert, Justine Tunney, registered the OccupyWallSt.org web domain anonymously on July 14 and started assembling a team to populate it.

[...]

[Tunney:] ‘… Right now I’m trying to get more developers to help me out with this. So far I’m the only person developing it, and that’s bad. I’m a firm believer in collective responsibility, because if I get hit by a bus, people are screwed.’

Others disagree with the notion that she tried to create a collaborative atmosphere. Activist and journalist Alexa O’Brien called the takeover “three years in the making,” and implied that Tunney had acted to seize power from the start:

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Christmas Antidote: Actual News

4:44 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas! What’s not to be jolly about?

Scotch and Soda

Sober up this Christmas with a shot of harsh reality.

Here’s a swig of actual news to wash down all those twee “human interest” pieces sticking in your throat.

Peter Moskowitz, writing for Al Jazeera America, says 2013 was a year of talking about inequality:

OWS members may no longer be on street corners, but the movement’s vocabulary of economic injustice, previously common only on college campuses, has become more accessible to a wide variety of Americans.

This year, as the disparity between rich and poor continued to grow to levels not seen since 1928, the nation’s new consciousness about the economy allowed income inequality to take hold of the country’s conscience. Indeed, 2013 was the year of thinking and talking about income inequality. As judged by how frequently we search Google, Americans’ curiosity about income inequality has been high since Occupy started in 2011, but recently spiked beyond 2011’s levels — and the conversation extended well beyond the Internet.

This year, there were revelations that median wages have remained flat for 10 years, that corporations continued to receive record-breaking tax breaks, that CEO pay has risen astronomically in the past few decades, and that the bottom and top income brackets continue to grow further apart.

While there were some minor policy changes passed that could help lessen that gap — such as many local minimum-wage campaigns; there were many, such as repeated cuts to food stamps and unemployment benefits, that seem to promise to widen the chasm further. But the conversation has begun and if 2013 was a year of public awareness about income inequality, maybe 2014 will be the year something is done about it.

At least 37 people are dead after bombings in Baghdad’s Christian neighborhoods:

The biggest blast happened near a church after a Christmas service. …

The assaults included a car bomb that went off next to a Christian church in the Doura district of the Iraqi capital after a Christmas service, a police officer confirmed, according to AP. The attack killed at least 26 people and wounded 38 others. Most of the victims were Christians.

Earlier on Wednesday, two bombs exploded simultaneously at an outdoor market in the same area of Doura, killing 11 people and wounding 21 others. The figures were confirmed by a medical official.

The Wiyot people are renewing their Native American culture 150 years after a brutal massacre by white settlers:

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What Flood? 2 weeks of disaster relief in Austin, Texas (#ATXFloods)

7:30 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Collapsed house after Austin Halloween Flood

A condemned houses in the aftermath of the Austin, Texas Halloween 2013 flood.

In the early hours of Halloween 2013, Austin, Texas suffered from a record-breaking flood. Some 1,100 homes were affected by the floods with hundreds of those seriously. Flood response was dangerously delayed by a faulty flood gauge and improper human monitoring of the rapidly rising Onion Creek. Because of the city’s seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward the residents of the floodplain, many remained asleep as water began to pour into their homes:

Onion Creek was transformed into a raging river last Thursday. The Halloween flood set a new record for high water levels in the creek. More than 1,000 homes were damaged and five people died.

At a town hall meeting in the Dove Springs area Tuesday night homeowners had a lot of questions, and one comment caused concern.

‘We relied too much, me, on technology and gauges that were not working properly,’ said Police Chief Art Acevedo.

Flood survivor Norma Jeanne Maloney took to Facebook to tell how she and her partner Dawna Fisher were awakened by rising waters:

Dawna Fisher woke me up to tell me we had a problem. Half asleep I said ‘Say again, what kind of problem?’ ‘We have some water outside and it looks pretty high.’ I went to our front window to see a raging body of water about 3 feet high. I said ‘We need to wake up the kids we are in serious trouble.’ I woke up Ruby and she woke up Texie. I went back into our bedroom where the water had already begun to seep up into our floors, I heard my cat Pickup howling, yes cats howl, under the bed. I managed to grab him and while he clawed me to pieces ( and he has never ever hurt anyone ) I said to him, go right ahead pal, I’m not letting you go. Texie and I shoved him in a bag and zipped it up. …

We all had gathered in the living room wondering if anyone on earth knew what was happening and how we were going to get out. We saw someone trying to escape in their car, it flipped on its side and was washed away. I heard voices and saw a boat in the street and my immediate response was to open the front door to swim to the boat to get help for my family. Do not try this at home, it lets more water in. We began flicking our porch light on and off and were seen. A beautiful tall firefighter walked through the raging water and made it to our window and asked how many lives we had in our home including pets …

He said he would be back. We waited and watched the water continue to rise, our belongings beginning to float about the house. My daughter Ruby asked me if we were going to die. That was the hardest part. Of course not I said, wondering if I just lied to my child and if we were all going to perish. I said guys, I know this isn’t really your thing, but can we pray? Without hesitation we all grabbed hands in a circle and asked that we be spared, at this point the water was past our waists. … The firefighter came back, we heard our neighbors screaming and we said go back for them, they are elderly and need your help. Our neighbors (we know now) were screaming go get them, they have babies! On his last trip to our window they finally managed to get the boat near our living room window against the current and said they were ready to load us. These brave men loaded our family and our animals in the tiny craft and we were transported less than a half mile north up our street where it was completely dry.

As is so often the case in these disasters, city organizations and big nonprofits poured into the neighborhood to offer assistance and ask for cash donations in the immediate aftermath, but it didn’t last. The Red Cross turned up to serve thousands of hot dogs before halting meals a week after the floods. A city-operated shelter opened for a mere 2 weeks. And while the Austin city government offered buyouts to over a hundred of the worst damaged homes, residents are expected to wait months to receive that money:

Occupy Austin in Solidarity with Turkey; Detained for Chalking City Hall

4:22 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Turkish allies and Occupy Austin gathered at Austin City Hall on Monday for a special #OccupyGezi Solidarity General Assembly. Police temporarily detained gonzo journalist Kit O’Connell.

Lighted Signs: TX <3 Resistanbul

Occupy Austin and the Austin Overpass Light Brigade joined members of the Turkish community in solidarity with Occupy Gezi on Monday.

This week has been a hard one. It’s not news to anyone paying attention that the state of national and global affairs is bleak, but there are times when the enormity of how fucked we are settles hard into the gut.

Monday saw the return of Occupy Austin to its original home at Austin City Hall. During the Texas Legislative session we moved our weekly gatherings to the Capitol. The anticipated wave of legislature-based activism never materialized (from Occupy, anyway — other groups like GetEqual staged multiple actions) and our small weekly group felt a little lost on the giant capitol grounds. Though the Leg has extended its session into ‘extra innings,’ we consented to move our gatherings back to City Hall and focus on our next steps for the future.

As June 3rd approached, the Occupy Gezi movement grew into global prominence and #OATX started receiving requests for solidarity. We invited any local allies of the Turkish people to attend our weekly assembly. About two dozen supporters joined the Assembly and we agreed to drop the usual assembly process and just create an open mic for discussion of the recent events in Turkey.

Detained for Chalking City Hall

While the Austin Audio Co-Op (fresh from an appearance at Queerbomb) set up their sound system, we chalked the plaza and steps around Austin City Hall as we have many times before. I wrote Occupy Gezi & Occupy Austin on the steps, and an older Turkish man followed me, outlining my words in yellow and others adding a colorful ISTANBUL! More of the steps soon read TX <3 Resistanbul, the message which the Austin Overpass Light Brigade would display that night.

Chalkupy: From Austin to Turkey We LOVE YOU

Occupy Gezi Chalkupy at Austin City Hall on Monday

Police appeared just as we were preparing to begin. Defiantly, I picked up a piece of chalk and wrote ‘OUR CITY HALL’ in large white letters as three officers approached. So of course, they detained me.

I know my rights and, once I knew that I was actually being detained, I identified myself with my legal name, birth date, and home address as required by Texas law. Then I invoked my right to remain silent. Three police surrounded me while others moved through the plaza. Bicycle cops soon arrived too. At least a half dozen cameras came out in the plaza, filming the police and me.

One Turkish woman spoke up: “They are killing our people in Turkey. Why are you harassing us here?”

An officer tried to placate her while another, my main interrogator, Officer Howell, badgered me with questions and sarcastic comments, adopting the tone of every high school’s mean girl bully. When I broke my silence to mention several legal precedents which show that chalk is free speech, she asked me if I was aware that Florida is three states away. Another exchange went like this:

Officer Howell: You have chalk all over your face.

Me: I invoke my right to remain to silent.

Howell: I know, I’m just saying you have chalk ALL OVER your face.

As I looked from her hard, angry eyes to the assembled crowd (Howell: “Why ARE you looking around? We’re having a conversation!”) I realized that the only thing separating these police from the pigs murdering people in Turkey was their orders. It’s a thin blue line indeed, and I felt like Officer Howell would go just as eagerly about her duties either way whether it was badgering me for my free speech or shooting a tear gas canister directly at my head.

This was far from my worst encounter with police (that honor goes to the Houston Police Department), nor even my most unpleasant with Austin Police. I’ve known for a long time that the police serve the 1%, but it would be hard to underline that fact more severely than at a moment like this: harassed by the police state as we tried to honor the victims of police violence across the world.

All our grievances are connected.

Everywhere Resistance Everywhere Taksim 

The police released me after reiterating that they considered chalk to be criminal mischief. Several cars would continue to monitor the gathering.

At last, we could hear the voices of our Turkish guests.

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Manning Solidarity at Austin’s Queerbomb

3:51 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Free Chelsea Manning float rolling in a sea of queers at Queerbomb

The OccuQueers and CODEPINK represented Chelsea Manning at Austin’s Queerbomb.

This post has been updated to accurately reflect Chelsea Manning’s gender identity.

After the well-publicized cowardice of San Francisco’s Pride in the face of pressure to drop support for Chelsea Manning and with her trial beginning this week, several Austin queers and allies wanted to act in support.

Austin’s “official” Pride event (with heavy corporate sponsorship and organized by the Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce) takes place in September. For the fourth time, independent activists honored Pride Month with Queerbomb, a rally and street march last Saturday. Thanks to the Occupy Austin OccuQueers and CODE PINK Austin, Manning was well-represented.

A Queerbomb volunteer provided us with a wheeled platform and helped the first stage of float-making, which was the creation of a frame made from chicken-wire and egg-carton material in the shape of an oversized human torso and head. On Saturday, more of the OccuQueers gathered in my back yard to cover the frame in paper maché and then paint it. We were assisted by one of Occupy Austin’s talented artists, the same woman who helped us create and deploy the Fuck Hyatt banner for Pride 2012.

Joined by the Austin Audio Co-Op and their famous “Party Wagon” (#OATX’s mobile sound system), we arrived just in time for the parade, which was forced to leave early. As we took the Austin streets under police escort, many cheered for the Manning float. We were soon joined by representatives of CODE PINK Austin and the Manning Support Network. Many queers and spectators asked for more information, and we offered fliers and answers in return. Along one part of the route, a few spectators joined our “Free Manning” chants.

Since almost every time I’ve posted about Manning to Facebook I’ve attracted trolls (including repeated disruptive attempts by a known past or present Obama For America employee), it was disappointing but not surprising that our real life efforts attracted one too. As we rolled down Sixth Street, Austin’s night club district, a lithe blond woman aggressively approached a marcher who carried a large Manning banner. The situation became tense as she shouted “Manning should rot in hell!” but the pressure of a fast-moving parade and the intervention of many other supporters kept things from escalating further.

Overall the action was a success, bringing increased awareness of Manning’s case. At the end of the night when I parked the Manning float and took a rest on a bench at a nearby coffee shop, it was fun to watch people stop to pose with him for photos as they left Queerbomb.

Trouble Ahead for Queerbomb?

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Antonio Buehler & Peaceful Streets: Grand Jury & Sticker Update

12:19 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

For more on this topic, see Antonio Buehler and the Peaceful StreetsThe Peaceful Streets Police Summit, and More Unconstitutional Copwatching Arrests in Austin.

Antonio Buehler at the Texas State Capitol

Antonio Buehler dodged a felony charge, but continues to struggle with multiple misdemeanors and another arrest.

Earlier this month, a Grand Jury in Austin, Texas finally ruled on Antonio Buehler and his allies in the Peaceful Streets Project in a case which stretches back to New Years 2012. Though Buehler will not face felony charges, he and other allies will go to court to answer to several misdemeanors. And Buehler found himself back in jail again after the Grand Jury ruling.

Felony charges date back to this Westpoint graduate’s controversial first arrest on New Years, when he filmed a violent arrest of a driver suspected of DUI and her passenger. Buehler was arrested and accused of spitting on an officer. Though the Austin Police Department refused to release the officers’ dashboard camera footage, other witness footage collected by Buehler seemed likely to exonerate him and it seems the Grand Jury didn’t think this charge would stick.

But Buehler’s first arrest launched him on a personal crusade to fight for police transparency and the constitutionally-protected right of citizens to film the police. Other arrests during the ensuing months were rolled into the investigation. The Grand Jury also made at least a token consideration of whether police had engaged in wrongdoing too.

Unsurprisingly, the cleared police of charges. At the same time, they chose to indict Antonio Buehler on four Class C misdemeanor charges of failure to obey the obey the police. Area activist Sarah Dickerson, arrested while filming one of Buehler’s arrests, was indicted for a single count of the same charge. Norma Pizana, the passenger in the New Years situation, will go to court for a Class A misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.

According to District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg,

The Grand Jury met on six occasions and heard from 13 witnesses, including Antonio Buehler and Officer Patrick Oborski. The felony charges considered by the Grand Jury were tampering with a governmental record by Officer Oborski as well as harassment of a public servant by Antonio Buehler. The Grand Jury also considered whether Officer Oborski committed official oppression.

But according to the official statement on the Peaceful Streets website:

[The Grand Jury] did not hear from either Buehler or Dickerson regarding the post-New Year’s Day incidents, nor any of the Peaceful Streets Project volunteers who witnessed those incidents. … There was no evidence that either Buehler or Dickerson ever obstructed or interfered with an officer engaged in his official duties.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo continues to insist that none of the arrests were motivated by the filming, but by interference with police duties:

The Austin Police Department wants to once again reiterate the fact that simply filming police actions are generally lawful. However, interfering or obstructing a lawful police action, failure to obey a lawful order, and/or resisting arrest is a violation of the law.

Thanks to the Austin Chronicle for their continued coverage.

Buehler’s activism — and arrests — continue. The Austin-American Statesman reports that Buehler was arrested in mid-April for putting Peaceful Streets stickers on the back of city signs near the Travis County Courthouse, part of a major hub of law enforcement activity in downtown Austin — he spent the night in the jail on the same block. The initial charge was for misdemeanor Class C Criminal Mischief, but after a city technician assessed the “damage” to signs at $99, the charge was upgraded to Class B.

Peaceful Streets Project members continue to regularly gather for copwatch events and Know Your Rights trainings.

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